Jane, Unlimited by Kristin Cashore

Jane Unlimited by Kristin Cashore

Information

Goodreads: Jane, Unlimited
Series: None
Source: Library
Published: September 19, 2017

Official Summary

If you could change your story, would you?

Jane has lived a mostly ordinary life, raised by her recently deceased aunt Magnolia, whom she counted on to turn life into an adventure. Without Aunt Magnolia, Jane is directionless. Then an old acquaintance, the glamorous and capricious Kiran Thrash, blows back into Jane’s life and invites her to a gala at the Thrashes’ extravagant island mansion called Tu Reviens. Jane remembers her aunt telling her: “If anyone ever invites you to Tu Reviens, promise me that you’ll go.”

What Jane doesn’t know is that at Tu Reviens her story will change; the house will offer her five choices that could ultimately determine the course of her untethered life. But every choice comes with a price. She might fall in love, she might lose her life, she might come face-to-face with herself. At Tu Reviens, anything is possible.

Review

Note: There are no plot spoilers in this book, but I do talk about the structure and various genres of the book, so if you are the type of reader who likes to go into novels completely blind and surprised, you may wish to skip this review.

I’m a big fan of Graceling, so I’ve been looking forward to Cashore’s first novel in five years with some excitement.  I knew it would be a different type of book for her, since it’s not high fantasy; however, I was fully prepared for the unique structure and blend of genres in the book.  In the end, I think Cashore has attempted something beautifully ambitious with the structure, but I’m not fully convinced that the final product melds together in quite the way I want.

The first important point to note about the book is that it begins linearly, but after Part II, it breaks off into different narratives. The idea is that protagonist Jane is faced with the option of following five different people, and whichever choice she makes will lead her path in a different direction.  It’s basically inspired by the idea of the multiverse—that there are infinite versions of us/the universe out there, all which split off when we make different decisions in our lives.

Honestly, I quite like this idea.  We probably all have the sense that the “big” decisions we make in life matter, that our lives would have gone differently if we had gone to College B instead of College A, or that everything would be different if we had chosen to study engineering instead of art history.  However, Jane, Unlimited explores the idea that even the “small” decisions can have large impacts, that it matters whether, right now, you choose to walk down your driveway to get your mail or to stay in your house for another thirty minutes and call your mother.

My issue is that the different narratives Jane experiences got a lot weirder than I was anticipating.  The first two options are realistic (if a bit sensational), so I was not expecting the last three narratives to go hardcore horror and sci-fi.  One minute I was in the real world; the next I was in the Twilight Zone.  All of these stories are interesting, but I didn’t think the book felt as though it went together as a whole, and I actually thought the first two stories were the strongest.  I personally would have liked the book better if all five narrative options veered towards realistic contemporary fiction.

Otherwise, however, the book is strong.  I have always thought Cashore has strong prose, and she is great at characterization.  I enjoyed reading about Jane, as well as the decently large case of secondary characters.  To make things even better, there’s an adorably loyal (and intelligent) dog who sticks to Jane’s side throughout her adventures.  Add the glamourous setting of a mansion on a private island, where half the residents are art experts, and this book is really great.

I connected with the characters and wanted to know what happened next in the book; I whipped through this story much faster than others I have been reading recently.  I just hesitate to give it a higher star rating because the second half of the book seems so disconnected from the first half.

3 Stars Briana

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Hollow City by Ransom Riggs

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children
Information

Goodreads: Hollow City
Series: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children #2
Source: Quirk Books
Published: February 24, 2015

Official Summary

This second novel begins in 1940, immediately after the first book ended. Having escaped Miss Peregrine’s island by the skin of their teeth, Jacob and his new friends must journey to London, the peculiar capital of the world. Along the way, they encounter new allies, a menagerie of peculiar animals, and other unexpected surprises.

Complete with dozens of newly discovered (and thoroughly mesmerizing) vintage photographs, this new adventure will delight readers of all ages.

Review

Note: I was sent a beautiful box set of the Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children series for review by Quirk Books, as you can see in the photo above. In addition to the three books, this box set comes with a collector’s postcard featuring some of the characters, using the type of vintage photographs found throughout the books themselves. My review of the first book can be read here, and this post is just a review of book 2. Bonus content in this edition of Hollow City includes: a sneak preview of the third Peculiar Children Novel, Exclusive Q&A with Ransom Riggs, and never-before-seen peculiar photography.


Hollow City begins in medias res, right where Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children left off.  There is some minor exposition to help jog the memories of readers who might have read the first book a while ago, but mostly things start at a gallop, which I liked.  The children are on the run/on a quest to save their headmistress (odd how those two things overlap), and starting the book at a fast pace builds momentum that continues throughout the novel.

I liked that in this installment Riggs shows readers more of the world of the peculiars.  The children leave their island loop and get to visit a variety of other loops and places on the mainland.  We also get to learn more of the history and legends of the peculiars.  Some things just seemed highly convenient (you can telephone loops?), but overall seeing more is fascinating.

There’s also some more character development here of Miss Peregrine’s charges.  As those who read book 1 know, Miss Peregrine is out of commission, which means that the children are in charge.  They have to make decisions and take actions without the ability to consult an adult or the duty to obey any adults, which helps draw out each of their personalities.  Unfortunately, I still think Jacob is a bit of a flat main character (even though he is developing his peculiar abilities, which, thankfully, are more complex than I was led to believe in book 1), and I still think the romance he has with Emma lacks any chemistry whatsoever.  However, the secondary characters really shine here, and it was great getting to see more of them.

One of my struggles with the photography in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children was that I didn’t think the photos Riggs chose to represent the characters always matched the character descriptions in the book.  I actually thought that his photo-picking abilities were more on point in Hollow City, though there is a shift here away from photos of people (though there still are many) to photos of things like zeppelins and horses and houses.  Overall, my feeling is still that including vintage photographs is a unique concept for a YA series, but I could really take or leave them.  A photo of zeppelins, in the end, just doesn’t add much to my experience of reading the book.

This is one of those books that, objectively, I think counts as a pretty strong fantasy novel.  On a personal level, I didn’t connect with it quite as much as I hoped, but I think others would enjoy it and feel confident recommending it. The ending also takes enough of a twist that I’m curious to see how things wrap up in book 3.

3 Stars Briana

Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake

Information

Goodreads: Three Dark Crowns
Series: None
Source: Library
Published: 2016

Summary

On the island of Fennbirn, queens are always born in threes.  On the day of their sixteenth birthday, the fighting commences.  The one who kills her sisters first is crowned, and the cycle begins again.  Mirabella, an elementalist, can control storms.  But she’s not so sure she can kill her sisters.  Meanwhile, Katharine is a poisoner, one who can eat anything and not die.  At least, she’s supposed to be.  And Arsinoe is a naturalist, one who can bring plants to life and bend animals to her will.  Except she’s still waiting for her familiar.  Whoever strikes first has the advantage.  But do they have the strength to do it?

Review

Three Dark Queens is one of those books that will not bear too much scrutiny.  It is really best not to ask why the sisters continually engage in this barbaric practice.  It is best not to ask why they think some of their ridiculous schemes will work.  It is best not to ask why two people can see each other once, sleep together immediately, and then “love” each other forever–even if the one is already promised to someone else.  It is best not to ask why an overly-possessive guardian would allow a lovestruck boy near her protege, and constantly leave them alone to make out.  Like she’s unaware of what they’re doing.  In short, don’t ask.  And you might enjoy the book.

Yes, most of the book is ridiculous.  Sometimes things happen for no other reason than to drive the plot forward or to make another complication.  Sometimes characters seem to act slightly out of character, again to forward the plot.  Sometimes stuff happens and it’s almost laugh-out-loud crazy and dramatic.  “Seriously,” you think.  “Did that really just happen?”  And yet, it’s the kind of entertaining fluff (if sisters wanting to murder each other can be called “fluff”) that is sometimes hard to put down.

Not every book has to be a literary masterpiece.  Some books are just funny and fun.  Three Dark Crowns is just that, even if unintentionally.  Yes, it wants to be dark and edgy, but really it’s mostly about relationships–romances and friendships–and sprinkled through with some intrigue that usually ends up nonsensical or crazy.  I enjoyed it.  Maybe that’s an embarrassing admission, but I did.

3 Stars

Last Star Burning by Caitlin Sangster (ARC Review)

Last Star Burning

Information

Goodreads: Last Star Burning
Series: Last Star Burning #1
Source: City Book Review
Publication Date: October 10, 2017

Summary

Last Star Burning is the exciting story of Sev, a girl who only ever wanted one thing: to be a good citizen of her country and make a place for herself. So it is a terrible misfortune when her mother betrays the whole nation, and the whole family is branded criminals as a result.  It is an even great misfortune, years later, when the government frames Sev for a fatal bombing in the middle of the city.  Suddenly, all the work she has put into her “re-education,” into keeping her head down and trying to prove she fits in, is wasted.  The only choice she has left is the one she never wanted to make: she will need to leave her beloved nation and see what dangers lie outside the walls.

Review

Last Star Burning is billed as a fantasy (and, indeed, it is), but because the official summary and marketing have focused on the fantasy aspects, as well as on Sev’s romance and personal development, I was not expecting the story to have as much in common with dystopian fiction as it does.  It’s clear once one starts reading the book and sees that there’s a rigid caste system, and government keeping secrets, and a conspiracy to frame Sev for a bombing she almost died in herself, and a wall that barely anyone crosses…that the novel is basically a dystopian that happens in an imagined world rather than in a future version of our own world. I’m perfectly okay with his, however, because Sangster deals with the elements well, making them seem fresh and exciting even to someone who has read her share of YA dystopians.

The plot is well-paced, and there are a lot of twists and turns that will keep readers engaged as Sev begins to piece together what is really going on in her world.  She quickly learns that much of what she learned was true, truths she held very dear, are not true at all–yet it’s unclear whether her new sources of information may also have their own agendas and biases. Throw in some camping and some fighting, and the story is a great mix of action, intrigue, and world building.

Sev herself is a fun character to tag along with.  Her devotion to her country comes across as admirable rather than unfortunate, and it’s great to see her take steps towards turning her nation into the good place she once believed it was.  Her personal relationships are also very interesting, as she navigates friendship,  romance, and family ties.  One of her most defining characteristics is loyalty, and I loved see her fighting even for people who never quite believed n her.

So, Last Star Burning is not quite what I expected, but is a very good read. I’ve been disappointed with some of the YA I’ve been reading recently, but I love how Sangster puts a fresh, riveting face on plot elements that could easily have seemed old.

4 stars Briana

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

Information

GoodreadsMiss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children
Series: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children #1
Source: Publisher (Quirk Books) for Review
Published: June 7, 2011

Official Summary

A mysterious island. An abandoned orphanage. A strange collection of curious photographs.

A horrific family tragedy sets sixteen-year-old Jacob journeying to a remote island off the coast of Wales, where he discovers the crumbling ruins of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. As Jacob explores its abandoned bedrooms and hallways, it becomes clear that the children were more than just peculiar. They may have been dangerous. They may have been quarantined on a deserted island for good reason. And somehow—impossible though it seems—they may still be alive.

A spine-tingling fantasy illustrated with haunting vintage photography, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children will delight adults, teens, and anyone who relishes an adventure in the shadows.

Review

Note: I was sent a beautiful box set of the Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children series for review by Quirk Books, as you can see in the photo above. In addition to the three books, this box set comes with a collector’s postcard featuring some of the characters, using the type of vintage photographs found throughout the books themselves. This review, however, is just for book 1, as I tend to review books individually instead of by series. I hope to have reviews of books 2 and 3 up in the future.


I’ve been putting off reading Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children since its release because I was always under the vague impression it was some kind of horror story, or at least that it was decidedly creepy, and I do not do creepy. No creepy movies, no creepy books. So, I was actually quite excited when my lovely co-blogger Krysta pointed out that Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is better thought of as just a fantasy book. It turns out she’s right. And since I was expecting fantasy, with the occasional monster, I was not disappointed (as some reviewers have been) that the book isn’t really a scary one. I got exactly what I thought I would, and it was exciting.

The plot follows teenager Jake as he tries to piece together unbelievable stories about monsters and flying children and invisible boys from his grandfather’s past. The book, then, is part mystery, part quest as Jake searches for these, well, peculiar people. With the introduction of the monsters in the latter part of the story, the book turns into action-adventure. So while the tale kept me captivated, and I was stuck to my seat turning the pages to see what happened next, I was at no point scared. There’s a marvelous blending of genres here, but I wouldn’t say horror is among them. The only thing approaching “creepy” is the foggy, old-timey island setting.

Riggs also does a nice job with character development, ranging from Jake himself (who must struggle to determine what is real and what is imaginary) to his father to the peculiar children under Miss Peregrine’s care. I did find the blooming romance between Jake and another character unconvincing, but this book isn’t about the romance, so it’s not a huge flaw. The looks into character’s minds and their motivations and their hopes and dreams are far more entrancing.

The vintage photographs that Riggs includes throughout the story are a nice touch, and I give the book props for doing something that’s utterly unique in the YA market. In terms of actual execution, however, I thought the photographs a bit hit or miss. Some corresponded well with the story and did add another dimension. Others, however, seemed forced into the narrative. For instance, photographs that are clearly of different people are said to be of the same person, or photographs that don’t quite match a character’s description get a lengthy explanation justifying the differences.

Overall, I quite enjoyed this story and do recommend it. With engaging characters, an eerie setting, and a plot full of twists and turns, this is YA fantasy worth reading.

4 stars Briana

Yvain: The Knight of the Lion adapted by M. T. Anderson and Andrea Offermann

Yvain

Information

Goodreads: Yvain: The Knight of the Lion
Series: None
Source: City Book Review
Published: March 14, 2017

Official Summary

Eager for glory and heedless of others, Sir Yvain sets out from King Arthur’s court and defeats a local lord in battle, unknowingly intertwining his future with the lives of two compelling women: Lady Laudine, the beautiful widow of the fallen lord, and her sly maid Lunette. In a stunning visual interpretation of a 12th century epic poem by Chrétien de Troyes, readers are — at first glance — transported into a classic Arthurian romance complete with errant knights, plundering giants, and fire-breathing dragons. A closer look, however, reveals a world rich with unspoken emotion. Striking, evocative art by Andrea Offermann sheds light upon the inner lives of medieval women and the consequences Yvain’s oblivious actions have upon Laudine and Lunette. Renowned author M. T. Anderson embraces a new form with a sophisticated graphic novel that challenges Yvain’s role as hero, delves into the honesty and anguish of love, and asks just how fundamentally the true self can really change.

Review

As a fan of medieval literature, I was excited to see Anderson adapt this story about one of King Arthur’s knights by Chrétien de Troyes for a new audience.  Although I enjoyed Anderson’s take in general, he does make changes to the plot and characters (presumably to streamline the story) that fundamentally change some of the themes explored in the original French medieval romance.  This, I think, does a disservice to Chrétien’s text, which is undoubtedly entertaining but is about so much more than epic battles and encounters with monsters.  Chrétien’s stories tend toward the complex and thought-provoking, and Anderson’s changes do away with some of this in order to present a slightly more digestible tale.

The story that Anderson and Offermann present is one of courage, love, and loyalty lost and regained. Yvain is not always heroic and the outcomes of the adventures are not always happy, but this is the point, and it paints a more complicated version of King Arthur’s times and his knights than readers get from other sources.  (Indeed, there are a lot of medieval texts that paint Arthur or his knights in a less than flattering light, which I think many modern readers are unaware of.) The female characters in particular in this story seem stuck between having power and being unable to wield it to get what they want.  It is a story that asks readers to question social and gender roles, as well as the definition of real power.

Offerman’s illustrations are gorgeous, if a bit lacking in color for my personal taste, and they are often the backbone of the story when Anderson chooses not to use words to explain plot events from his source material. Her art is detailed and based in extensive research, adding a wonderful layer of nuance to the book. This adaptation will make the most sense to readers who have read Chrétien’s version (and I do recommend reading that; Penguin publishes a very accessible translation), but it is a solid introduction to the medieval romance for those who have not read the original.

3 Stars Briana

Water in May by Ismée Amiel Williams (ARC Review)

Goodreads: Water in May
Series: None
Source: Received from publicity agent for review
Publication Date: Sept . 12, 2017

Summary

Fifteen-year-old Mari Pujols believes that her unborn baby will be the one person in her life who finally loves her.  Her mother is gone, her father is in jail, her abuela never liked her, and Bertie?  Well, Mari’s not dumb enough to think Bertie will stick around.  But then Mari discovers that her baby has a heart condition and will need several surgeries to survive.  Everyone around her thinks she should abort the baby.  But Mari isn’t quite sure she wants to give up on him yet.

Review

Water in May celebrates the strength of single mothers.  Even while surrounded by her supportive friends, Mari sometimes feels alone.  And she knows that, when the doctors say her unborn baby has a heart condition, her friends will want her to abort the baby rather than face the challenges that lie ahead.  But Mari believes that her little Angelo can make it.  And she’s willing to do whatever it takes to fight for his survival.

This book can sometimes feel very heavy.  Feeling abandoned by the people around her, Mari increasingly isolates herself.  She loses friends.  She stops attending class.  Eventually, she isn’t even sure she has a place to stay.  But social workers?  No way Mari is going to deal with them.  She’s convinced she can do everything on her own.  She has to, if she wants her baby to live.

At the same time, however, there are redeeming moments of light.  Mari has a very supportive girl crew.  She can delight in the simple moments like dancing in the park.  And her love for her baby imbues the whole book.  Mari has a lot of love to share.  She just hasn’t had many people who were willing to let her share it.

Water in May challenges stereotypes about single mothers.  It presents Mari as a fighter, strong, determined, and wanting the best for her child.  The people around her might not think his life is worth saving, but Mari does.  And her love for him makes her capable of great sacrifice.  It’s a heartwarming tale about how one life can change and challenge others.

4 stars